The Fact-Law Distinction and the Trial Courts

Sepehr Shahshahani, Politics

Date: 
Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:00pm
Location: 
438 Robertson Hall
Audience: 
Graduate Students


LEGS, or "Law-Engaged Graduate Students," meets during the academic year to discuss a work in progress by one of our Graduate Associates. Academic papers, dissertation proposals, and dissertation chapters have been presented at these meetings, to an audience of fellow graduate students.

Abstract:  "I explore the implications of an important but understudied procedural rule governing American courts--namely, that appellate courts give more deference to trial courts' findings of fact than to their conclusions of law. After explaining the rule and illustrating its application in a variety of legal contexts, I present a formal model to shed light on its implications for judicial decisionmaking. Formal analysis yields a number of intuitive results--such that the incidence of costly factfinding increases in the trial court's valuation of dispositional utility and the "factiness" of the issue under consideration, and decreases in the appellate court's valuation of dispositional (relative to rule-based) utility and the trial court's cost of factfinding. It also yields a number of counterintuitive results--such that the effect of the two courts' preference divergence on the incidence of factfinding is nonmonotonic and that equilibria featuring a strategy by which the higher court always sets the rule at its ideal point are supportable in only limited circumstances. The last result points up an interesting distinction between equilibrium strategy and outcome with respect to rulemaking that would not have been appreciated without a formal model."

Sepehr Shahshahani
J.D., Ph.D. Candidate, Politics